Posted 22nd February 2008.
No, not the band, of course.
If you've read any of Stephan Schiffman's Sales Training books you'll know he believes the number one competitor of any sales person to be “The Status Quo”. In other words, rather than going with you or a competitor, the customer decides to do nothing. Either not buy, or stick with who they're currently got.
Paul McCord posted an excellent piece on this recently: Recognizing Your Biggest Competitor.
By the way, if someone knows how Paul manages to write so many high quality posts so frequently, please tell me!
I dropped a comment in on his blog, but I wanted to expand here, as I feel there's a side to this that isn't often explored.
Usually, when people talk about a customer deciding to do nothing, they recommended better qualification (to classify the customer as a tyre-kicker early on and not to waste time with them) or more aggressive closing techniques to push the customer into making their mind up.
But in my experience, the biggest reason why customers decide to do nothing in large sales situations is not because they're timewasters, or that they need to be pushed into action.
The issue is most often that they haven't been fully convinced that the value of what you're selling outweighs the cost for them.
It's not that you haven't talked about the business case for what you're selling, or shown how it meets the customer's needs. The problem is most often that you just haven't spent enough time fully exploring the customer's expressed needs and identifying the wider and deeper needs – and corresponding costs and impacts – that underlie it.
Typically what happens in a sales situation is that the minute we hear a customer express a need that our product can solve, we jump straight into “selling mode”. We talk about the benefits of the product, how it can solve their problem, and what the business case for doing that is.
But the problem is that by jumping straight to the solution we didn't allow the customer to fully discover how big their problem actually was.
It’s very common for customers to initially believe their problems are “annoying but not worth solving” (for example a computer system that’s difficult to use) – but then on deeper exploration to realise it’s causing them huge problems downstream (lost productivity, errors in customer records, bad customer service, etc.) which definitely are worth solving.
It's up to you to lead that further discussion. By using your experience of similar problems you can use questioning and examples to help the customer discover for themselves just how significant their problem is.
And so suddenly, the solution you then offer doesn't look so expensive after all. Suddenly its costs are far outweighed by the size of the problem it solves.
I’ve found this ability to “build up” the perception of a problem (not falsely – it’s all about helping the customer realise the true impact) is a key skill in large sales. Most professionals – and even trained sales people jump straight from hearing a need that their product can solve into selling the benefits of the product and trying to close.
They don’t spend nearly enough time exploring the problem itself and its impact with the customer.
But by doing this full exploration a salesperson can turn a “Status Quo” loss into a big win.
Posted 19th December 2007.
I was recently given a clear reminder of how easy it can be to drift away from your core sales positioning – and how dangerous that can be.
For more years than I care to remember I've positioned the value of my consulting services and expertise as being able to practically implement new ideas and solutions to achieve tangible business results. Yes, I like to think I can bring thought leadership and leading-edge practices; but those things only bring value when they result in real change and improvement with bottom-line benefits.
That positioning has always seemed to resonate with clients – but over the last few years I've drifted away from using it. Sometimes it's felt like I've talked about it so often that surely it's “old hat”. Surely everyone understands that value from consulting only comes when real improvements are made, not when reports are written or presentations delivered? Surely all consultants position their services this way and I risk just becoming “one of the pack”?
So over the years I've tried to make my positioning more “sophisticated” – making the importance of successful implementation a given, or even an unstated assumption.
But a recent conversation with a potential client (where I almost accidentally focused on my old “successful implementation” message) highlighted for me that it still resonates brilliantly – and is very often the most important factor for many clients. The client almost bit my hand off when I started talking about how I focused on strategies which were proven and practical and how I stayed with them to ensure they were implemented successfully.
In my quest to improve my positioning over the years I'd forgotten that although I sit through hundreds of my own sales meetings and presentations; my clients only experience one. Messages which for me had become stale and seemed old hat can still hit all the right buttons for them.
By focusing on my perception of my positioning rather than my clients I had begun to drift away from something that worked really well.
Key learning: If you find yourself wanting to make your positioning or your sales messages more “sophisticated”, or you feel that what you are saying must surely be old news by now – take a reality check. Find out how your clients and potential clients perceive those messages – you may be pleasantly surprised – and you may prevent yourself from a dangerous drift away from something that works really well.